Breathtaking. Groundbreaking. Cinematic. The most important graphic novel ever written. All of these have been used to describe Alan Moore’s seminal 1986-87 book, Watchmen, which perfectly captured the social anxieties of the day thru a critique on the core concept of superheros. So why on earth would DC Comics risk incurring the wrath of fans and the industry as a whole by releasing a series of prequel books chronicling the backstory of what were already very deep and fully fleshed characters? The answer is, because I believe that there is another story here to tell. While Watchmen has superbly shown the downfall of the superhero, as human beings will inevitably succumb to their baser instincts (be it greed, power, predjudice, or corruption) when allowed to operate outside the realm of traditional social mores; Before Watchmen attempts to capture the genesis of the desire to be “super” and the ideals which make one a “hero”.
For fans of the original series, this book will not disappoint. DC is bringing out the best in the business to pay this title the respect it is due, and really treats the work with an air of homage. Just as in Watchmen, the reader is greeted with non-linear story telling, honest character exploration, and an artistic style that is simultaneously the pulpy retro style we associate with the era and the gritty cinematic noir we know existed beneath the gloss of “the greatest generation”. As for the work’s ambitious undertaking in chronicling the origin of the downfall of the hero complex; this book is a very solid first step. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so they say, as it seems even the original upholders of truth, justice, and the american way were susceptible to spin, vigilantism, and cronyism from the start. Everyone has a motive, or self interest, or something to hide while they “nobly” fight for the greater good.
The notion that good and evil is not so black and white set forth in Watchmen is perfectly echoed in Minutemen; and while having a half dozen individual character books spanning 30+ issues may prove even moore (pun only slightly intended) dense that the original, I thoroughly believe that Minutemen will prove to be an insightful and important chapter that could easily have been added to the original.
Final Score: 9/10 Nips